What would you think of a preacher whose sermons offended people and were taken as insulting by the hearers? What if a preacher caused the audience to be filled with anger because of the hard things that he said? What if he went so far as to mock false beliefs? Regardless of his intent, many would denounce such preaching as wrong. Even if he did not intend to insult people, but merely sought to preach the truth boldly, many would condemn him for offending others.
However, the Bible is filled with cases of those who preached the truth boldly in an effort to bring sinners to repentance, only to see those addressed react with anger because of taking offense at the message. Preachers of the truth in Bible times were not men of timidity and a to-tally “positive” message which was pleasing to the hearers. Their message had elements which were not always appreciated by all who heard it. Notice the reactions to Jesus’ preaching.
In Matthew 15, Jesus reproved the Pharisees for their replacing of the law of God with their human commands and traditions. This reproof was in forceful terms as He said, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honors Me with their lips, but theirheart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:7-9).
How did the hearers take this reprimand? Did they accept it gladly? No, that is made clear by the disciples who came to Jesus about the matter. “Then the disciples came and said to Him, Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (v. 12). Jesus did not apologize for offending the hearers, but rather reinforced His rebuke as He answered His disciples in the next verse. Did Jesus do anything wrong?
In a rebuke found in Luke, Jesus brought a similar reaction from the audience. After He finished exposing the hypocrisy of many who heard Him, we read of one man who responded to Jesus. “And one of the lawyers said to Him in reply, Teacher, when You say this, you insult us too” (Luke 11:45). Did Jesus make a mistake in His approach?
In another case, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and then taught about the proper use of the Sabbath. The hearers did not appreciate Jesus’ teaching. In fact, the Bible says, “But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11). Was Jesus at fault for their reaction?
When Jesus did the same thing on the Sabbath later, there was a mixed reaction from the crowd. The record says, “And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire multitude was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him” (Luke 13:17). The same message which put some to shame caused others to rejoice. The difference was not in the approach of the preacher, but the attitude of the hearers toward the truth.
Long before the time of Jesus, Elijah reproved the prophets of Baal (a false god) and challenged them to a contest on Mount Carmel to prove who was the true God. When the prophets of Baal prayed for their god to bring fire down upon their sacrifice, nothing happened. After this continued from morning until noon, Elijah began to emphasize the folly of their actions as is recorded in the Bible. “And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Clearly, the statements of Elijah were meant to mock the foolishness of believing in Baal and bring rational people to reject such error. Was Elijah wrong for so mocking that error and openly exposing its folly? No, for the very next verse we see is that God was with Elijah. In fact, God continued to be with Elijah as His prophet. Remember that God defined the concept of a prophet from the time of Moses and Aaron onward as one whom God used as a mouthpiece. If Elijah was God’s mouthpiece, God must have approved such speech. If God approved such speech by causing inspired men to so speak, should we not respect the fact that approved example authorizes such speech at times when it is needed to pierce the arrogance or folly of error?
We could look at many, many more cases where teachers of truth in the Bible were not well received by their offended, humiliated or enraged hearers. In every case, the attempt of the teacher was to boldly declare the truth, not to maliciously mistreat or intentionally anger the hearer. However, the sinner who refuses to repent of sin will not react positively to being exposed as a sinner. God desires those who have first been humbled (Isaiah 57:15; James 4:10).
Several years ago, I heard a wise older preacher make a statement about the unpleasantness of the sinner accepting the fact of his sins. He said, “You know, there must be a hundred ways to skin a cat, but from a cat’s point of view, there’s not a good way.” When we are tempted to condemn the messenger because we do not like the message, let us examine ourselves to see if we are reacting properly. It may not be pleasant, but the lesson is needed if it is the truth.